July 13, 2006

World News

Presbyterian (USA) Official Fired
After Embezzling $100,000

BY ADELLE M. BANKS                                                                                             
©2006 Religion News Service

capA top treasury official of the Presbyterian Church (USA) has been fired after she admitted to embezzlement, denomination executives announced.
More than $100,000 in church funds have disappeared and church officials in Louisville, Ky., said restitution and insurance should cover the losses. They also said the case will be handled by prosecutors, the Presbyterian News Service reported.
Judy A. Golliher, who was the denomination's second-ranking financial officer, was confronted after staffers discovered the theft on June 27, church officials said in a statement released July 6 by the General Assembly Council. She admitted to embezzlement and officials ended her employment.
The missing funds were in the denomination's general operating fund, which includes church members' contributions and church investment interest. Church officials expect that programs will not be affected by the theft. "Our own internal processes detected the misconduct and we took immediate action," said Linda Valentine, who began working as the General Assembly Council's new executive director in the same week that the firing was announced.
"In addition to continuing our investigation, we will take steps with external auditors to review and strengthen our internal controls to ensure that funds entrusted with us are properly used."
Golliher, who served as treasurer for the PC(USA) church corporation, said she would repay the amount she admitted stealing, officials reported. "While we appreciate the offer of cooperation, we will vigorously pursue our internal investigation and our work with the Commonwealth Attorney's Office," said Eric Graninger, the denomination's general counsel. "We must take every means available to make a full recovery of the church's funds."
Golliher was named the denomination's interim controller in October 2004. In 2005, she became the associate director for finance and accounting and her additional treasurer role began in February.

NY High Court Refuses to Legalize 'Gay Marriage'
Conservatives Applaud Ruling

BY MICHAEL FOUST                                                                                          
©2006 Baptist Press
Handing homosexual activist groups a significant defeat, New York's highest court July 6 upheld the state's marriage laws, ruling that "gay marriage" is an issue for the state legislature, and not the courts, to decide.
The 4-2 ruling by the New York Court of Appeals was handed down barely a month after it heard oral arguments in late May. The case involved four lawsuits brought on behalf of 44 same-sex couples in part by Lambda Legal, a homosexual legal group, and the American Civil Liberties Union. Lambda Legal and the ACLU argued that New York's marriage laws violated the state Constitution's equal protection and due process clauses. But the court disagreed.
"We hold that the New York Constitution does not compel recognition of marriages between members of the same sex," Associate Judge Robert S. Smith wrote for the court. "Whether such marriages should be recognized is a question to be addressed by the legislature."
A victory in the nation's third most populous state would have been a big one for homosexual activist groups, who are still searching for a second victory to accompany the landmark 2003 decision by the Massachusetts high court (called the Supreme Judicial Court) legalizing "gay marriage." Now, all eyes focus on New Jersey and Washington state, where state high courts could hand down "gay marriage" decisions any week. But the second victory won't take place in New York.
Smith and his colleagues -- while not taking a position on whether the legislature should legalize "gay marriage" -- said there is a rational basis for limiting marriage to heterosexuals. That rational basis, they said, can be rooted in the uniqueness of the heterosexual relationship regarding procreation.
"[T]he legislature could rationally decide that, for the welfare of children, it is more important to promote stability, and to avoid instability, in opposite-sex than in same-sex relationships," Smith wrote. "Heterosexual intercourse has a natural tendency to lead to the birth of children; homosexual intercourse does not. Despite the advances of science, it remains true that the vast majority of children are born as a result of a sexual relationship between a man and a woman, and the legislature could find that this will continue to be true. The legislature could also find that such relationships are all too often casual or temporary."
Smith further said the legislature could decide that "it is better ... for children to grow up with both a mother and a father."
"Intuition and experience suggest that a child benefits from having before his or her eyes, every day, living models of what both a man and a woman are like," he wrote. "It is obvious that there are exceptions to this general rule -- some children who never know their fathers, or their mothers, do far better than some who grow up with parents of both sexes -- but the legislature could find that the general rule will usually hold."
Associate Judge Victoria A. Graffeo wrote a concurring opinion, while Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye wrote a dissenting opinion, arguing that the court should legalize "gay marriage." A seventh judge recused himself since his daughter, an attorney, has advocated for "gay marriage."
"I am confident that future generations will look back on today's decision as an unfortunate misstep," Kaye wrote.
The New York decision was handed down the same day that the Georgia Supreme Court unanimously reinstated that state's constitutional marriage amendment. It had been struck down by a lower court earlier this year.
To read the complete story, click here.

Church of England Moves to Allow Women Bishops

BY AL WEBB                                                                                                           
© 2006 Religion News Service
In a bold and historic shift away from tradition, the Church of England's governing body has ruled that the ordination of women as bishops can be theologically justified--but it is a move certain to stir yet more vexation within its ranks.
The church's General Synod, meeting in York, voted 288-119 on July 8 in favor of the controversial move that, if carried through, could allow women into the highest ranks of the church.
The ruling, although strongly supported by bishops and clergy, is sure to antagonize many traditionalists. It also puts the church on a potential collision course with the Vatican, which has warned that women bishops would render unity between the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches "unreachable."
Traditionalists point to the Bible and say Jesus chose only men to be his apostles. But leading biblical scholars, including Durham Bishop Tom Wright, say there is evidence of the involvement of women in the earliest days of the Christian church, and cite Mary Magdalene, who was the first to relay news of Jesus' Resurrection--the central message of Christianity.
With this vote, the General Synod signaled that it accepted that ordination of women can be justified from a theological viewpoint and that the move was "consonant with the faith of the church."
Among the 38 autonomous churches that make up the global Anglican
Communion, only the United States, Canada and New Zealand currently allow female bishops. The latest is Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, who recently was elected presiding bishop of the 2.4-million-member Episcopal Church.
In the Church of England, bishops, clergy and lay people vote separately on such important issues, and the General Synod's move still has to gain approval from the laity.
Archbishop of York John Sentamu, who led the General Synod's debate and supported the proposal, said, "I must pay tribute to the Anglican women who have been tested for nearly 90 years. They have kept the faith and remained loyal to the Church of England."

Church Groups Criticize Bush Plan
to Block Aid to
Cuban Church Council

BY DAVID E. ANDERSON                                                                               ©2006 Religion News Service

Two leading ecumenical agencies have sharply criticized the Bush administration's tightening of sanctions against Cuba, including blocking humanitarian aid from reaching the Cuban Council of Churches.
The recommendations, contained in a 93-page report approved by President Bush on Monday (July 10), are meant to aid the opposition to Cuban leader Fidel Castro and promote democracy in the post-Castro era. The recommendations include $80 million to aid opponents of the 80-year-old Castro.
The report was drafted by the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, which is jointly chaired by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez.
The U.S. has had economic sanctions on the Cuban regime since 1961, two years after Castro seized power. Under Bush, the U.S. has steadily tightened those controls.
But church groups say that one element of the new plan, which would no longer allow the Commerce Department to grant licenses for humanitarian aid that go through the Cuban Council of Churches, violates religious freedom.
The Geneva-based World Council of Churches, in a Monday (July 10) letter to Bush, said the proposal is "a gross violation of religious freedom and a remarkably aggressive interference in religious matters."
"We strongly feel that it is completely inappropriate for the U.S. government, or any government, to determine who is and who is not a legitimate national council of churches and to restrict or deny Christian fellowship and humanitarian assistance to any particular national church council, including the Cuban Council of Churches," the Rev. Samuel Kobia, the WCC's general secretary, said in his letter to Bush.
Separately, the New York-based National Council of Churches and Church World Service, its sister humanitarian aid organization, also expressed its opposition to the proposal.
Church World Service has a long history of providing humanitarian aid to the Cuban people through the Cuban Council of Churches, which represents many of Cuba's Protestant churches; the Bush administration maintains that the Cuban church agency is "controlled" by the Castro government.
"Ecumenical bodies have a right to determine their partners and to relate internationally," said the Rev. John McCullough, CWS executive director. "This (proposal) raises grave concerns apart from the politics of U.S.-Cuban relations."
In Cuba, the report was denounced by government officials and some dissidents said it would do them more harm than good. "I don't doubt the report's good intentions, but it just adds kindling to the fire," Elizardo Sanchez of the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and Reconciliation told the Associated Press.